Kotaro Fukuma, Wigmore Hall

Michael Church
Tuesday 25 January 2011 17:06

The guru-principle holds good in Western classical music as it does in the music of the East. Kotaro Fukuma’s programme-note suggests he’s collected a whole gallery of gurus: if he’s drawn the key element from each, he should have crossed Leon Fleischer’s Teutonic power with Aldo Ciccolini’s Italian finesse, and Richard Goode’s serene classicism with Maria Joao Pires’s bold Romanticism; Mitsuko Uchida’s fastidious intensity with Leslie Howard’s virtuosity.

He opened his Wigmore recital with three of Schumann’s Novelletten – pieces exploring the piano’s texture, and pervaded by a curiously inward mood. Working on a large canvas, and with oils rather than watercolours, he gave each a vivid characterisation; his touch ranged from cantabile sweetness to sinewy muscularity, but there was no forcing of the music’s fugitive emotions.

With Chopin’s grandest Nocturne (in C minor) followed by his most majestic Ballade (in F minor), Fukuma then took things onto a more exalted plane. The opening of the Nocturne had an imperial spaciousness, with the arpeggiated chords being caressed rather than struck; the Ballade had a nobly singing tone, and its variations finally wound to a blaze of virtuoso magnificence. Perfectly judged and immaculate, this was playing such as one rarely encounters; Fukuma’s physical relaxation was reflected in his consistently beautiful sound.

Then, after using a silk handkerchief to wipe the sweat off the keys, he launched into Liszt, and into the empyrean. First came two concert studies, ‘Waldesrauschen’ and ‘Gnomenreigen’, and I have never heard the latter played with such velvet-pawed brilliance. Then came ‘Grande etude de perfectionnement’ and six ‘Grandes etudes de Paganini’: these electrified Fukuma’s packed audience much as Liszt and Paganini must have done theirs. As one finger-breaker followed another, and with his crossed hands moving like humming birds, he delivered this demonic music – with its superhuman technical demands – as though nothing could have been more natural. Everything had an airy lightness, and a bewitching beauty. As he stood up, slightly breathless, to take his bow, one wondered how so slight a creature could have created such massive sound-worlds.

Then came three encores, by Liszt, Albeniz, and Chopin: the first and third exquisite, the second full of gutsy southern warmth. A fabulous artist, and at 28 a prince among peers.

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